Barack Obama and the Harvard Law Review
Date: Sunday, September 22, 2013 @ 23:40:57 EDT
Topic: Soetoro

David Bernstein

Barack Obama was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. The NY Times carried a story about this in Februrary 1990, which included a few quotes from Obama:

"The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress," Mr. Obama said today in an interview. "It's encouraging." "But it's important that stories like mine aren't used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don't get a chance," he said, alluding to poverty or growing up in a drug environment... On his goals in his new post, Mr. Obama said: "I personally am interested in pushing a strong minority perspective. I'm fairly opinionated about this. But as president of the law review, I have a limited role as only first among equals." Therefore, Mr. Obama said, he would concentrate on making the review a "forum for debate," bringing in new writers and pushing for livelier, more accessible writing.

For what it's worth, a quick look at volume 104 of the Harvard Law Review suggests that not surprisingly given the genre, Obama didn't succeed in publishing "livelier, more accessible writing." But with regard to "new writers," the extremely prestigious Supreme Court term Foreword that year was written by Robin West, now of Georgetown, but who was then a professor at University of Maryland. Prof. West, moreover, didn't have the typical pedigree, having graduated from University Maryland Law School (yes, in theory completely irrelevant to her credentials to write the Foreword, but if I know my elite law review editors, something that gave many of them significant pause.) More typically, the Review invited Guido Calabresi (dean, Yale), Kathleen Sullivan (professor, Harvard), and Morton Horwitz (professor, Harvard) to write the next three years' Forewords. Prof. West is a very prolific, influential scholar, and was an inspired choice from outside the usual group of elite law school professors the HLR would consider. Call this the Obama effect, perhaps, though I'd be interested in hearing from readers who were editors that year about his effect on HLR culture.


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